Fitness in the Digital Age

The past, present and future of fitness technology.

Mazhar Bagasrawala
Mar 2 · 4 min read
Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Fitness is ‘The condition of being physically fit and healthy.’ It’s about having the energy and strength to feel as good as possible. Exercise generates endorphins within the brain and nervous system, which make us feel happier. Staying active speeds up the metabolism, which burns calories even while at rest. Improving fitness levels is beneficial to the muscles, bones, heart, lungs and joints. It lowers the risk of many dangerous diseases and helps us sleep better, deal with stress, and keep the mind sharp. Today, digital and wearable health and fitness technologies are seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives. In fact, around 50% of smartphone users today have downloaded a fitness app.


This scene from the film Perfect depicts the 70's/80's fad for aerobics.

So when did fitness technology originate?

In the 1900’s, industrialisation brought about desk-bound lifestyles, and we started to exercise as a leisure activity to remain healthy. Simple machines like the weighted pulley were built in order to achieve fitness goals. Both men and women began training with contemporary equipment. When fitness activities boomed in the 1970’s, video-cassette recorders became an important component in fighting sedentary living. Exercise videos guiding us to achieve an ideal body were sold in the millions. Consequently, electronic treadmills and exercise bikes began replacing traditional exercise machinery. While being more silent and efficient, they permitted a higher degree of personalisation, based on the user’s fitness level.

Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash

The current scenario:

The devices that help us stay fit today offer a far superior level of personalisation. These include wearables such as the FitBit, Apple Watch or Oakley Radar Pace glasses and mobile applications like NTC (Nike Training Club). Wearables track and monitor complicated systems such as our eating habits, pulse, movement, calories, sleep patterns and body composition. The data collected can be benchmarked, shared, and used for personal progress. Today, finding a new gym or booking a sports class is effortless. Online training programs have enabled us to workout anywhere we wish. The global fitness industry is constantly evolving, and we have responded positively to the progress.


So what’s next?

Research says, the future of fitness technology lies in three broad domains: Smart Clothing, Virtual Reality and Genetics.

1) Smart Clothing

As wrist-worn wearables lose traction, more personalised and less invasive technology will emerge. In 1984, Adidas released the Micropacer shoe to track a runner’s distance, speed and calories burnt. Today the same, and more biometric data can be obtained from smart socks or shoe-soles. Companies are now embedding tracking sensors within clothing, in the form of compression shirts, shorts or a sleeve. Smart clothing will dramatically improve fitness, also aiding in physio-therapy and injury prevention. These clothes will rollout once they’re more cost and energy efficient.

Photo by Vladislav Skripchenko on Unsplash

2) Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is set to make workouts more entertaining and motivating than ever. VR immerses users in a digital environment that they can interact with using sensory controllers. Nintendo’s Wii Fit gave us a glimpse of this technology in 2007. The Oculus Rift, today’s foremost VR device, is so engrossing that the health benefits of the experience seem almost incidental. To each their own, but why run on a treadmill when one could rather defeat aliens from outer space in hand to hand combat. A writer from California claims to have lost fifty pounds in five months playing a game called Soundboxing on the HTC Vive! Immersive fitness currently has some limitations and safety issues, however it will surely entice us to get moving in the future.

3) Genetics

Most smartwatches compare a user’s heart rate to the average of someone with the same physicality (age, height, sex) to gauge the amount of calories burnt. It’s not a truly accurate calculation and doesn’t take into account the body’s inner functions. An alternative to obtain such biometric data is through genetic insight, via DNA testing. Many companies currently offer DNA tests using blood, saliva or stools that show us our weaknesses and how to work on them. Once more prevalent, the technology could be integrated in future wearables. Maybe we’ll soon see smart clothing infused with DNA swab kits that collect live information as we sweat it out!


Looking ahead…

In the Digital Age, fitness is considerably more inclusive. It has worldwide accessibility, and absolutely any of us can reach our targets irrespective of time or place. Tomorrow, fitness will be more ingrained in daily life, and will help us build a stronger sense of community. Once reserved to the physical barriers of a gym, fitness activities will move to spaces such as the classroom or workplace, and make working out will feel less like a chore.

Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis on Unsplash

Mazhar Bagasrawala

Written by

Product Designer at the Centre for Digital Media, Vancouver 🇨🇦. Interested in tech, business, travel & lifestyle.